Album Review: Gil Mantera’s Party Dream – Dreamscape


The term “80s retro” gets thrown around a lot these days. It’s easy to marginalize acts such as M83, Ladyhawke, Neon Neon, and many others as part of a trend, nothing more. Even though these acts are consciously hearkening back to bygone days, the “retro” marginalization doesn’t fit. I say that they are part of the rebirth of a musical aesthetic– these artists are not simply copying the sound, they are furthering it. Gil Mantera’s Party Dream’s second album, Dreamscape, is a significant addition to this movement. The formerly happy hardcore duo has become a synth-rock trio with an expanded and matured sound: Party Dream has dyed their moody, danceable pop ballads in the dark and beautiful power of the electronic art rock of old

I first experienced Gil Mantera’s Party Dream in 2005. They performed alongside Grand Buffet, Astronautalis, and Cracker Jackson, all rap acts, musically placing Party Dream as the odd men out. Gil Mantera and Ultimate Donny stumbled wildly through their songs, synth-fueled ballads sung partially through a vocoder. I wasn’t sure whether or not their music was particularly good, but they were having a good time and that buck was passed on to me. When Gil Mantera started setting his pubic hair on fire with a lighter while singing, I knew there would be something special about them.

Later that night, I listened to their studio tracks and discovered that they were more than a fun show – they were good. I’d never had much of an ear for happy hardcore before, but GMPD seduced me with their pervasive enthusiasm and appealingly harmonic synth work. One song hammered home their potential more than any other: a cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams”. Their rendition of the Fleetwood Mac track is infused with elements of Nicks’ solo career and drowned in synthetic lo-fi instruments. Gil Mantera’s trademark vocoder singing only heightens the warm, electronic feel by emulating Nicks’ voice. Changing one of the verses to “it’s only me – who wants to fuck you up the asshole” also adds something special.

Party Dream’s first album, Bloodsongs, focuses on the happy hardcore sound of metal guitars over a synth backing. Songs such as “Shadow Grip” and “Buffalo Tears” are ripe with funky energy, born and bred for having a good time, like a replicant prostitute. Their lyrics revolve around simple pop subjects distorted with a scatter shot of darker underpinnings and wild eccentricities. GMPD’s cover of “Dreams” (which was formerly only available on their Myspace) and the Bloodsongs track “Elmo’s Wish” both flirt with the style that the band achieved in Dreamscape: a primarily synth-driven sound that transmutes light pop lyrics into the mysterious and contemplative styling of new wave and alt rock.

Dreamscape’s title track, which opens the album, immediately lives up to its name. A fast beat sequence suggests accelerated motion over an unknown terrain, slow keyboard harmonies and moody guitar riffs bring out mysteries of the subconscious, and the instrumental breakdown that ensues puts the “party” into this dream. “Lost in your dreams/ and I can’t wait to have you/ back in my arms/ here in my arms” sings Ultimate Donny in the chorus of “Dreamscape”. It’s easy stuff, but against the energetic music it feels so right. Both singers start their own slow-building verses that launch into satisfying accelerations in energy. Tried and true synth pop aesthetics set the stage for the whole of the Dreamscape tapestry.

The second track, “Dreamlovers” suggests that there isn’t going to be too much variance when it comes to subject matter or music. This is a false alarm. Dreamscape is narrow in its focus, but not overwhelmingly or unpleasantly so. “Dreamlovers” is a fun song that harnesses a lot of the mainstream-potential that GMPD now wields, while still maintaining their interest in almost new-age spirituality. A perfect example of this is the CGI video for the song crafted by Gil Mantera himself:

“Get Sirius” (think astrology, not the struggling satellite radio conglomerate) is a funky, punchy tune that combines stiff verses with a melodic chorus. Gil Mantera’s vocoder vocals take the stage here, leaving Ultimate Donny to the guitar work. “Mood Swings” brings more of a narrative to GMPD’s vocals than usual. “It looks like it just might be that time of the month” opens the charming ode to coping with a girlfriend’s menstrual mood swings. A dreamy melody reminiscent of a classical romantic ballad heightens the sugary-sweet charm amidst the frustration of emotional disarray. “Eyes of Blue” continues this romantic theme, but musically, the song takes a sharp turn towards the hi-NRG sounds of Italodisco coupled with elements fit for an adventure-fantasy score. An extended instrumental featuring a rhythmic bass solo further cements “Eyes of Blue” as one of the best tracks of the album.

Of all the tracks, the one which truly captures long-resurgent elements of electro pop best is “Ballerina”. The song breathes dance-friendly harmonies, and is far synthier than any Kate Bush track, but perfect for “Running Up That Hill”-style modern dance. The lyrics here are the best in the album, harnessing the grace and conflict of ballet. Coupled with the music, they combine and coax to mind visions of female forms leaping through smoke-heavy shafts of sunlight and twirling, legwarmer-clad ankles.

“The Only One” is a very simple, but endearing sentimental love song easily over shone by the tracks it’s sandwiched between – “Ballerina” and “Supra Natura”. Right from the get-go “Supra Natura” differs from the rest of the album with its extended intro of savage jungle drums that blend into a raw synth rendition of the famous theme of Richard Strauss’ “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. The opening verses are dire and dark:

Deep in the jungle/ there lies a devil/ vision of beauty/ creature of sorrow/ temptress of woodsmen/ spellbound by her trance/ death by vampiress/ entundamiento

“Waking Vision”, Dreamscape’s aptly-titled final track, is an energetic, Joy Division-inspired romp through a carousel of thoughts. It acknowledges the journey of listening to the album, the darkness and beauty of dreams, and the inevitable return to consciousness (e.g.“What I can’t see there/ will always be there.”)

The addition of A.E. Paterra to Party Dream was a wise one. Working as both a drummer and producer for Dreamscape, A.E. he has furthered GMPD’s growth and expansion of sound. I caught the band’s most recent tour recently and was floored by how good they’d become.
However, their performance still in many ways musically surpasses their studio work. Hearing all three members playing live instruments truly enhances their sound and, as proof of their maturation, the tracks off Bloodsongs that they performed were so much improved that I wish they’d re-record them. Even their ability to cover Stevie Nicks has been upgraded– they unleashed an aw
esome rendition of “Stand Back” from her 1983 solo album, The Wild Heart. Party Dream’s showmanship has gone off the charts. Mantera lighting his pubes on fire was one of many good-natured, zany antics, but this time the entire band came out in knock-off spandex Spider-Man costumes in all the wrong color combinations. Their  clear-bodied guitar-weapons were furiously wielded and Donny’s ramblings were that of a mad man: “Pac-Man Jr. has a history of fucking my old ladies.” With all this newly-added class, Party Dream elevates the awesome energy I remember to the next level, right down to the silk-underwear striptease.

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